Bitter 424

After waiting a couple of minutes to make sure the coast was completely clear, the bandits stood up.

“Good work,” said the human. “You did well.”

Britta instantly felt her hackles go up at being patronised. She checked herself before she let her tongue loose. She was already in that frame of mind, so it would have been easy to go off on the bandit, but what would be the point?

“Are you going to give me a reward for saving you,” she said. It wasn’t likely, but there was no harm in asking.

“Yes,” said the human, “my eternal thanks.” He smiled in a way that was meant to be charming, like he was posing for a picture.

Britta rolled her eyes. “I’m sure that’ll come in very useful.”

The cat-man laughed. “You’d be surprised. That smile of his can get you into all sorts of places.”

“And all sorts of trouble,” said the lizardman. It was like a routine they acted out, their introductory set piece.

The three of them brushed the dust off their clothes and looked around.

“Well,” said Britta, “good luck.”

“Wait,” said the human. “You don’t have any food to spare?”

“No,” said Britta.

“Water?” said the cat-man.

“Stream.” Britta pointed like she’d done last time. Then she pointed down the road after the soldiers. “Town.”

“The town won’t be an easy place to hide,” said the lizardman. “Perhaps we should try somewhere else.”

The three of them turned to Britta, like they expected her to chip in with some advice.

“I’m new here myself,” she said. They continued to stare at her. She felt like she was required to say something, but no one had told her what. How had she become the NPC in this situation? “You could try joining the rebels.”

“Yes, the rebels,” said the human, raising a finger like this was the idea he’d been waiting to hear. “The enemy of my enemy…”

“Why did you ditch the army?” she asked. “It can’t be that bad.”

“It is, and worse,” said the human.

“Inhumane,” said the cat-man, who wasn’t exactly human himself.

“A corrupt and deplorable institution,” said the lizardman. “The soldiers are treated like cattle, and the cattle are treated like… well, it’s best I don’t tell you. One day, you may find yourself eating army stew.”

“Perhaps you could tell us of a place where we might make contact with the rebels,” said the human. “You look like you know your way around the more nefarious parts of a town.”

Britta assumed he meant it as a compliment. It was undeserved, however it was meant. She had no idea where to direct them, especially now that everything had changed.

“One minute.”

She opened her status screen and sent a PM to Stan, asking him where to send some fresh recruits for the cause, whatever the cause was.

She got a reply almost immediately, giving her the location of a tavern, The Friendly Toad, on the outskirts of Quosada. The message ended with: Shame you didn’t tell me you were looking to become a recruiter. I could have given you a quest and you could make yourself some XP.

It was almost like the game was rubbing it in her face on purpose.

She passed on the details to the bandits. They weren’t actually bandits this time around, they were deserters, but she couldn’t help thinking of them as inept highwaymen. They were very grateful, singing her praises, and they went off renewed energy. No message popped up, no reward to claim.

Even if it was meant to be life-like, where you encountered people and interacted with them for no particular reason or purpose, it seemed strange to be achieving these little successes — at least that’s how she saw it — and get nothing of material value from them. Were they trying to teach her a lesson? Was the game going to be about doing the right thing for no personal gain? She couldn’t believe they wouldn’t try to sneak some kind of microtransactions into the process.

It seemed unlikely there wouldn’t be a more traditional form of progression. Maybe she had just wandered off the designated path. If that was possible, if you could find your own adventure, that was great, but even then, there should still be a way to advance your character. At least by two experience points.

She nudged Donald forward with a squeeze of her knees. He ignored her and finished eating a spiky plant that looked like it would be uncomfortable to swallow, and then set off down the road at an amble.

Her destination was the Gnome Village where she could establish a checkpoint for logging in. At least she had a clear goal, even if she had no idea what the Gnome Village would be like this time. The kobolds had stepped up their game, so it was quite probable the gnomes had too.

It took about an hour to get to the place where the entrance to the village was marked on her map. Like last time, there was a hole in the ground with no discernible way down, other than a leap of faith.

Britta dismounted and peered into the darkness. There were no signs of life. No signs at all. An actual wooden sign next to the entrance would have been greatly appreciated.

She made the decision to jump, and then remained standing on the lip, reviewing the decision. Shouldn’t an underground city have an official entrance? They had to have a normal way in, surely.

She took another look around. Grass plains stretched in every direction. It would take quite some time to have a proper look around. Nope, not how she wanted to spend her day. She took a step into empty space, and fell.

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